ENNIS — A riveting story of adventure with unique local ties has its world premiere opening June 9 on the Theatre Rocks! stage. “Mojave,” a historical drama/comedy written and directed by Bill Rhoten fluctuates between poignancy and humor as it relates the story of Olive Oatman, who garnered fame as a tattooed captive and happens to be a relative of Bill’s wife, Suzanne Rhoten.
Mrs. Rhoten’s daughter encouraged her to sign up with the genetic service 23andme, which led to a connection with a California woman seeking information regarding Rhoten’s great-grandfather, John Wesley Sperry. The woman, who was adopted and trying to sort out her biological family history, mentioned that the Sperrys were related to the Oatmans.
“To help her, I got to doing some research,” said Rhoten. She was amazed to read the story of Olive Oatman, who was captured by the Yavapais in 1851, sold to the Mojaves and became a celebrity when she was ransomed back in 1856, the setting for Mr. Rhoten’s script.
The Oatman family was traveling West. They got just west of Maricopa Wells, Arizona, when they were attacked. Olive’s father, pregnant mother, and four siblings were massacred. Her 14-year-old brother was left for dead but made it back to Maricopa Wells; she and her 7-year-old sister Mary Ann were taken captive. Mary Ann would later die in captivity.
Once Rhoten started reading the amazing details, she got out an old family Bible that included a family tree. “Holy Smokes! This is the Oatman Family Bible!”
“This is so amazing to think this is my family and nobody ever talked about it,” said Rhoten, who realizes she would be Olive’s first cousin twice removed. “I think that even though captivity stories were hot in those days, it wasn’t really something you wanted in your family.”
The Bible, which lists Olive’s grandparents and parents, is one of a number of historical items that will be on display at the theatre.
“Mojave” takes place at Fort Yuma as Olive (played by Samantha Jo Green) is being returned to the American soldiers. Her sole surviving brother Lorenzo (Ben Rosewell), who has been searching for his sisters, arrives at the fort soon afterward. Olive is put in the care of Sarah Bowman (Lisa Rosewell), a larger-than-life character who was famous in her own right as an innkeeper, restaurateur, madam and camp follower of Zachary Taylor's army during the Mexican–American War.
The outstanding cast also includes Kate Vega as Topeka, who traveled with Olive to the fort; Adrian Arteaga as Lieutenant Reuben Twist; Amanda Canady as Mrs. Twist; Michael Self as Lieutenant Colonel Martin Burke; Michael Hall as Curly Joe; Aaron Green as Hank; and Elizabeth Rosewell as Lilly.
“Mojave” runs weekends June 9 through 25 at Theatre Rocks!, 505 NW Main St. in Ennis. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 25. Tickets are $12 for students and seniors, $15 for general admission adults. For tickets and information go to TheatreRocks.com or call 972-878-5126.